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What are coral reef services worth? $130,000 to $1.2 million per hectare, per year: experts

Experts concluding the global DIVERSITAS biodiversity conference today in Cape Town described preliminary research revealing jaw-dropping dollar values of the ecosystem services of biomes like forests and coral reefs including food, pollution treatment and climate regulation.

Undertaken to help societies make better-informed choices, the economic research shows a single hectare of coral reef, for example, provides annual services to humans valued at US $130,000 on average, rising to as much as $1.2 million.

The work provides insights into the worth of ecosystems in human economic terms, says economist Pavan Sukhdev of UNEP, head of a Cambridge, England-based project called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).

Based on analysis of more than 80 coral reef valuation studies, the worth of services per hectare of coral reef breaks down as follows:

  • Food, raw materials, ornamental resources: average $1,100 (up to $6,000);
  • Climate regulation, moderation of extreme events, waste treatment / water purification, biological control: average $26,000 (up to $35,000);
  • Cultural services (eg. recreation / tourism): average $88,700 (up to $1.1 million)
  • Maintenance of genetic diversity: average $13,500 (up to $57,000)

Taken together, coral reef services worldwide have an average annual value estimated at $172 billion, says Mr. Sukhdev.

He notes the growing scientific agreement that coral reefs are unlikely to survive if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels exceed 350 parts per million. Negotiators of a new climate change deal in Copenhagen in December, however, would be proud to achieve an agreement that limits atmospheric carbon to 450 parts per million, he says, calling that a death sentence on the worlds coral reefs.

Halving the destruction of tropical forests, meanwhile, would allow them to continue absorbing roughly 4.8 gigatonnes of carbon per year

Contact: Terry Collins

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What are coral reef services worth? $130,000 to $1.2 million per hectare, per year: experts
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